FIFTY BUCKS by Michael Kechula
“Why’d you steal my money?” Lisa yelled. She swatted my face so hard with her umbrella, snot flew into my egg foo yung.
“Ow! What the hell did you do that for? I didn’t steal your money. I borrowed it. I’ll pay you back with interest. I swear on my mother’s grave!”
“Lying bastard! I happen to know your mother’s not dead. But she’s gonna be if you don’t give me my money back in an hour. And that’s a promise.”
She stormed out of the restaurant leaving me with a bill I couldn’t pay. Not with three bucks in my pocket.Good thing the place was so noisy, nobody heard me yelp. I figured most of the patrons were stoned out of their skulls and wouldn’t have reacted even if an A-bomb had detonated. I went to the john to dab cold water on my aching face. The mirror showed a swollen cheek. A little higher, and I woulda been in an emergency room with a smashed eye. Fortunately the men’s room had a window large enough for me to escape. I’d swiped fifty bucks from Lisa’s purse to bet on a horse while she was snoozing. A sure thing. Stupid animal ran out of gas coming down the stretch.
Trudging through the downpour, I thought about her threat. I had to take it seriously. Lisa knew what it was to kill. She’d slammed a girls head into a wall when she was twelve. The kid died. Lisa ended up spending her teen years at a woman’s farm in Jersey. When she hit twenty-one, a shrink said she was cured of her destructive rages. Yeah, sure. I wonder where he got his license to practice? Probably Wal-Mart. I couldn’t believe when she told me that she’d killed a girl. Then she came out with something that shook me: she said she liked it. I shoulda broke off with her then. But she was a great lay. The kind that don’t show up too often.
Good thing my mom lived three thousand miles away. Just in case I couldn’t get fifty bucks real fast. I wouldn’t put it past Lisa to jump on a bus and go all the way to California just to waste my mom.
I visualized Lisa banging my mom’s head against a wall until brains splattered the wallpaper. Damn! What an unsettling thought. I figured I better find a way to get fifty bucks, real fast. If only she’d wait a few days, I could pay hour out of my unemployment check.
Walking past a liquor store, my head filled with thoughts of robbery. That was stupid. I didn’t have anything on me to threaten the clerk. Looking through the window, I saw a pipsqueak of a Korean. Somebody’s little old grandma. I wondered why they’d risk their grandma behind a liquor store counter at night in a high crime area.
Maybe if I went in and made a ruckus, I could scare her into opening the cash register. I’d only take fifty. Well, maybe that plus another ten just to hold me over until my check came.
“Hello, Mista. Can I help you?”
She had the cutest dimples when she smiled. I didn’t know Koreans had dimples.
For some reason I blurted, “Yeah. I need fifty bucks.”
“What? Fifty dah-lah? Why you want fifty dah-lah?” She pulled the biggest pistol I’d ever seen from under the counter.
“Hold on,” I yelled. “You don’t understand. I asked if you can change a fifty?”
“Oh. Only if you buy.”
“Tell you what. I changed my mind. Here’s a dollar. Gimme a pack of gum.”
I got out of there real fast.
Then I saw an old guy. I thought about knocking him over and grabbing his wallet. But with my luck, he might only have a buck or two.
I figured the best thing was to go to Lisa’s apartment, tell her I was sorry, and that I’d give her fifty plus five bucks interest from my unemployment money.
She wasn’t there. Nor was she there the next day. Or the next.
My aunt called. My mom was dead. Murdered.
On the way to the hockshop, hoping to raise enough for a bus ticket to attend mom’s funeral, I stopped at a Police Station. Told my suspicions to the desk sergeant. He gave me a line of bull about having to prove Lisa had gone out of town, and lots of other hokey stuff. It was a waste of time. When you ain’t a Kennedy or big time politician, nobody’ll give you the time of day.
I couldn’t get enough outta the pawn dealer for a bus ticket. I promised myself that once I got work, I’d save enough to go there to put flowers on my mom’s grave.
I saw Lisa a week later. She came to my place. She was all lovey-dovey. Especially when I gave her the fifty plus interest. But I didn’t like the look in her eyes. And I realized that a good roll in the hay ain’t worth being around a psycho.
“You’ll never steal from me again, will you Willie?”
“No,” I said, thinking of ways to brush her off.
“Smart boy. You know now it don’t pay to steal from me, don’t you? Or do me wrong in any way. Am I right?”
“Yeah. You’re right. Look, I gotta go out. Got an interview with Safeway today. They’re hiring.”
She bought the lie.
Packing a few things in a duffel bag, I headed for the highway.
I stuck my thumb out, hoping truckers were in a good mood that day.